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A LONG, HARD day on the Escarpment

I grew up in the Eastern Freestate in Qwa Qwa and in Harrismith, and to this day it is one of my favourite places in our beautiful country. Now that I am fortunate enough to own a Dual Sport Bike, this area has come alive to me as never before. I know the area pretty well, and as some of you may know it is an absolute dream to ride this area on a D/S bike.

Earlier in the week I had the idea of doing a day ride out there on Saturday, I knew it would be a LONG day of hard and fast riding, just what the doctor ordered. But as life happens, I got tangled up at work on Friday afternoon. Friday night turned out to a late night as well. None of this bodes well for an early departure! But, by 05:00 Saturday morning,  I was on the highway heading south towards the escarpment!


This was taken somewhere between Villiers and Vrede, man the Freestate must have some of the best sunrises


The beautiful Church in Memel early morning


I filled up in Memel, and headed for some dirt on the way to Normandien Pass. I have this habit of naming certain roads to what I feel they should have been called. It helps me remember them and imprints them on my mind forever. It is a bit odd when I chat to someone about them and I refer to the roads by what I call them and the person has no idea of what I am referring to. Well this dirt road from Memel to Normandien Pass I call the Kliprivier Road, because it runs next to the Kliprivier all the way to Normandien Pass. It is one of my all time favourite roads to ride, it is wide, open and fast with no surprises, stunning views and a great surface. What more can you ask for. I love this road!


The first part of the Kliprivier road


Now this is a proper dirt highway


This road does not disappoint and it just keeps getting better and better


The BMW800GS was a dream to ride on these type of roads!


Then I got to the top of Normandien Pass. This is one the most beautiful views you can get. It truly is breathtaking. I just sat here for 15min, looking down the escarpment towards Natal all the way down there. What a special place this is. And I had it all to myself. I have not seen one single person or vehicle since I left Memel. Life truly is good. The silence here is special, the only sound was the wind.


As you reach the top of Normandien, you can see the edge of the escarpment


Taking a breather at to top of the escarpment


The views are pretty damn awesome!


Had to get one with my bike and the endless open space from the top of the escarpment


I eventually got going again, and headed down Normandien. I have ridden Normandien up and down in the past, but I really prefer going down, the views are just so so special. The pass is in very good condition and should not be a problem for anyone to ride it. Some loose rocks here and there with some ruts and wash aways after all the rain, but nothing to worry about.

The start of the pass


Some more, really an awesome ride and a must do for every D/S biker


And this is what you look at the whole time descending the pass


At the bottom of the pass I made my way towards the small settlement of Besters, and the bottom of the Railway Line leading up the escarpment to Van Reenen. Now this road, what can I say, if you like it fast, this one is for you. I have never ever rode a dirtroad so smooth, it is in better condition than a tar road, but it has a loose layer of gravel covering it. What this does, is it provides you with THE BEST surface to practice your powerslides, man I had so much fun on this road, it should be illegal. I did not stop once on this piece, I just had too much fun, so no pictures,sorry. All to soon I reached Besters, and headed up the mountain towards Van Reenen on the “Tunnel Road”


Heading back up the escarpment towards Van Reenen. I would make my way all the way up to the top of those mountains in the distance!


The old abandoned tunnel on the railway service road is really pretty and sometimes quite overgrown


I reached the Green Lantern just before noon and settled in for a well deserved beer and a bite to eat


After a nice cold beer at the Green Lantern, I headed for Tintwa pass (Middledale Pass) down to Geluksburg. Now this pass is great with some good views, but for some reason I do not rate it very high on the to do list. This may be for two reasons,
1) It is tar
2) If you have ever done Sandspruit Pass (Verlore Vallei) that runs parallel to Tintwa, Tintwa pass fails in comparison.

Verlore Vallei is something very special to ride. I gave Sandspruit a miss this time because I still wanted to ride Bezuidenhoudts pass, and that could take a while, and I still needed to ride back to Gauteng. You can read about Verlore Vallei in my 2008 Recap!


The turn off to Tintwa Pass and Geluksburg


Getting ready to descend the escarpment for the second time today


Heading down Tintwa Pass


Then it was on to the BIG one for the day. Bezuidenhoudts Pass. Now I have already done 490km and over 8 hours on the bike so far today, but I felt good and strong, ready to tackle this pass. For those that do not know Bezuidenhoudt’s Pass, it is one of the “must do” passes in South Africa. the views are spectacular, and the track can vary from easy peasy to near impossible. It is a bit of a gamble when you want to ride this pass because one never knows what the track will be like. I was aware of this before I took on the pass. But I thought to myself, hey how hard can this actually be? I have been here before and I have seen people riding this pass in under 10min, on a 1150GSA! I must add that the pass was in great condition when I was here the last time (April 2009). You can read about that trip in my 2009 Recap!

I guess I should have taken the sign at the bottom stating that the pass was closed due to rock falls a bit more seriously. Well what do they know anyway, I am here, have bike, will ride. From the get-go I was on loose rocks on a steep uphill section, nothing like a good kick in the face to get your heart pumping, your adrenalin flowing and your sweat glands working!


I guess I should respect warning signs a bit more!


Thank goodness it was dry, I can only imagine what a mess it must be to ride this in the wet. (We tried in 2016, but failed…..Blog post on that will eventually follow!)



Stopping for a breather somewhere on the way up Bezuidenhoudt’s Pass


Now, let me explain this part. As we all know there is no way a photo can ever give you an idea of how steep an incline is. This thing was very steep, loose gravel, loose rocks and off camber, with some dongas thrown in for extra flavour. I had to walk this whole uphill section to see a doable line and to decide if I am going to give it a shot. See my bike all the way down there! It was STEEP.

Loose, steep, off camber….and I was alone


The view from the bottom before you hit the bank


I went for it and made it up! It was a huge adrenalin rush!


And then I got to the part where I realized the people who closed the road and put up the sign were not just fooling around. They were on to something after all. I also walked this part to see if it will be possible to ride it. I had a hard time walking it as it is incredibly steep and very loose. I fell once on the way up and twice on the way down, and this was while I was walking it!


The first step up


Then within a few meters you hit the second one, there will not be time to stop between the two as you will need every bit of momentum you can get!


I decided to turn around and admit defeat. Bezuidenhoudt’s Pass has beaten me. I do believe that this was possible. With a smaller bike it will be no issue, and even on bigger bikes it will be doable. But it will just be plain stupid to try and ride this on a big bike when you are alone. It will have to wait for another day.

I headed back down the pass, and my attempt was not in vain. The scenery was just magical, and I have mastered that 800 in some of the hardest terrain that I will ever ride that bike


On the way down, you have a permanent view of the Northern Drakensberg – Stunning!


Back on the main dirt road I headed for Bergville, and blasted up Oliviershoek Pass, stopped for the token photo at the top

The view down into Kwa Zulu Natal from the top of Oliviershoek Pass


I could not bear to ride tar all the way back to Harrismith, so I took some more dirt back to my old hometown

Platberg (Flat Mountain) next to Harrismith. I do not even know how many times I have run/walked/climbed up and down that mountain while growing up!


The Freestate must have some of the prettiest skies!


After a quick visit to a dear friend of mine and his dad and sister who lost their mother the previous week due to a terrible hijacking. It is such a sad story and I really feel for them. They are such a great family and I have known them since I was 5 years old. Very sad. I left Harrismith with a very heavy heart.


Maybe this rainbow when I filled up was there to show us that no matter how unfair life sometimes seem to be, there is always a ray of hope


This was a very special trip to me, it had a lot of meaning.

All in all, I travelled 904km, I left home at 05:00 and got back home at 20:20. It was a long, hard, but incredibly rewarding day. You can follow my entire route on the interactive map below:

[map style=”width: auto; height:400px; margin:20px 0px 20px 0px; border: 1px solid black;” kml=”http://www.etiennexplore.com/wp-content/uploads/2011ESCARPMENT.kml”]


Thank you for taking the time to read it.




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